It was in his seminal work “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” that the late comedy/science fiction writer, Douglas Adams, came up with the concept of an “Improbability Drive”. This drive, which allows some very strange and improbable things to happen has obviously been in use given the amount of improbability around.
For example, it was Australia, not Austria, which nearly won May’s European satellite television extravaganza, the Eurovision Song Contest (yes, you read that right). By some similar mystical force, or rather due to the electorate’s last minute fear of a Labour/SNP coalition, the Conservative party defied the bookmakers’ odds and the opinion polls to win the UK General Election with an outright majority.
In fact, so strong were the Conservatives in Southern England, that one commentator noted that apart from a few urban areas, the Labour party won fewer MPs in the South of the country than there were astronauts who walked on the Moon.
Meantime another wag showed that an electoral map of mainland UK using the party colours, with the resurgent SNP’s yellow dominating Scotland and the Conservatives’ blue dominating England, plus a few interspersed urban spots of Labour red, was looking more and more like the cartoon character Maggie Simpson.
Space up, defences still down
The UK’s space industry is likely to be a beneficiary of the election result as the returning key members of Conservative administration – especially the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne – were already fans of the new space technologies being developed in the UK.
Nevertheless, not all is bright in the world of aerospace. Manifesto spending promises made to other areas, including the NHS, and tax cuts will mean another cut in funding for defence, mooted as being up to 5%. This is in spite of the fact that UK’s defences already have embarrassing gaps: the Nimrod maritime patrol aircraft were all scrapped and there are no jet fighters for the Royal Navy’s two new aircraft carriers (its Harriers were prematurely sold or scrapped before new US-built F-35 jets were ready).
In space, the UK’s Skynet military communications satellite fleet is starting to show its age. Meanwhile the British Army reportedly only has about 36 working tanks and the RAF has so few serviceable fighters that it could not stand the attrition rates of the “Battle of Britain” of 1940 again for more than about two days.
Of course, defence cuts have been going on for years, under both Conservative and Labour administrations. For example, it was in 2000 that the jestful IgNobel Peace Prize was awarded to the Royal Navy for ordering its sailors to save money on bullets and cannon shells during training exercises by shouting BANG! instead of firing. Sometimes the Royal Navy does fire expensive live weaponry – but by accident rather than by design. For example, last year a Royal Navy frigate inadvertently torpedoed a dockside fence and metal container.
Ah well, we can always rely on our stout British Yeomanry armed with their pikes and long bows, and, of course, our caustic British wit to make wounding remarks about the style of our enemies’ uniforms. 🙂
At least the decision to renew the submarine-launched Trident nuclear missile system can now go forward (it had been previously held up by the Conservatives’ Lib Dem coalition partners). The new Conservative majority government will eschew the suggested alternative of using slower cruise missiles launched from non-specialist submarines, even though ballistic missiles are becoming more vulnerable to anti-ballistic missile defences on Earth and in space .
Still, at least UK’s potential enemies do not yet have a Hitchhiker’s style “improbability drive” to turn our nuclear missiles into bowls of petunias or sperm whales. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aJycqfofBhs
On the subject of improbable items, now that the election is over we can finallymention all the space polices that were cited during the campaign. There were not many and they were mainly from the “joke” candidates. One was from the comedian Al Murray in his “pub landlord” guise with his Free United Kingdom Party (FUKP) 🙂 as he stood unsuccessfully in South Thanet, Kent. He promised to remove the UK from not only the European Union (EU), but also from the solar system.
After the election, noting the planned UK “in or out” EU referendum that the Conservative administration now plans, Jean-Jacques Dordain, current head of the European Space Agency (ESA), weighed in by suggesting that nations such as the UK would be wise to stay in both ESA and the EU. No word from him yet about whether we should stay in the solar system as well.
The other space-related promise made during the election was from Mr Johnny Disco, the Monster Raving Loony party’s candidate for the Wythenshawe and Sale constituency in Manchester. His plan was to start his constituency’s own local space programme by turning Wythenshawe Airport (officially called Manchester Airport) into the Wythenshawe Space Centre. This added to his party’s other original, if slightly unrealistic policy of making the mythical unicorn a protected species.
Despite being confident of a “Loony landslide” Mr Disco did not win. Presumably, the unsuccessful candidate will now have to find himself a proper improbable job.
We suggest that he might try and become a Hansom Cab lamp fitter. 🙂
(Apologies to “Carry on Doctor”)